The Wake County Animal Center will temporarily close after the death of three dogs and a recent outbreak of canine influenza, the shelter announced Thursday.
The shelter, already struggling with crowding, will close beginning Friday, Oct. 6, for at least 35 days to help contain the outbreak. It also will stop accepting animals to prevent new cases and protect the 449 animals currently at the shelter.
It’s the first time the shelter has been forced to close due to an illness in recent history, said Animal Center Director Jennifer Federico.
One dog that had not shown signs of a respiratory infection was found dead in its kennel, she said.
A second dog was able to be taken home, but the owner reported the animal wasn’t doing well.
“(They took him) to the emergency clinic the next day, when it passed away with severe respiratory disease,” Federico said. “The vet I spoke to for that case thought at that point he was almost septic.”
Sepsis is an extreme reaction to infection that can cause permanent damage to multiple organs, as well as organ failure.
A third dog, an Australian shepherd, was so sick it had to be euthanized.
“These are not your normal shelter dogs, but they’re coming in and they were all here less than 10 days and severely ill,” Federico said. “So it is definitely in our community.”
‘Perfect breeding ground’
Some 57 dogs have been diagnosed with upper respiratory infections since Sept. 15, “an uncommonly high number of cases,” according to a Wake County news release.
There are 160 dogs in the shelter and, ideally, they’d be tested once a week with healthy dogs able to stay in an area apart from dogs that are sick, Federico said.
But testing is expensive, so Wake County is seeking grants to help cover that cost. The shelter does see animals with mycoplasma, a different respiratory disease. But mycoplasma combined with canine flu can lead to a severe outcome for the animals.
“The number of pets coming to us has been pushing our shelter past capacity for well over a year – and unfortunately, it’s that situation – tons of dogs living together in one space – that’s the perfect breeding ground for viruses like this,” Wake County Commissioner Cheryl Stallings said in the release.
“Animal Center staff are working overtime trying to quarantine, treat and care for these pets – but to do it most effectively, we need to temporarily close,” she said. “It’s not a decision we’re taking lightly.”
The animal shelter can treat the animals in house until they need oxygen.
“That’s not something we can treat here,” Federico said. “And some emergency clinics won’t take them because they are so infectious. We have to find someone who would take them.”
None of the diagnosed animals were considered critical as of Thursday, she said.
“We don’t want to be in that situation,” Federico said. “We want to get everyone better as much as we can. That’s why we are stopping intake. We have got to give everyone the best chance we can,”
All adoptions of pets are paused, including an October Pit Bull adoption special, and all community pet days are canceled. Surrenders will not be accepted at the animal center. Anyone with an appointment to surrender a pet will be notified to cancel.
People who believe their pet is at the animal center can call 919-212-7387 for instructions on how to reclaim their pet.
What is canine influenza?
Canine influenza is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs that is also called dog flu. It is different from “kennel cough,” though they resemble each other.
All rooms in the facility are under quarantine meaning no dogs are allowed in and no dogs are allowed out. The clock resets every time a new dog starts coughing.
Dog influenza is on the rise in North Carolina, with veterinarians reporting dogs getting sick with respiratory illnesses after staying at boarding or day care facilities. Most dogs recover after two to three weeks, but the severity of the illness can lead to pneumonia and sometimes death. About 1 in 5 infected dogs will progress to pneumonia within the first week of being sick.
“This can be life-threatening without proper veterinary care in a hospital,” according to the news release.
Canine influenza can cause respiratory infections in cats but it is not common. But shelter cats are at the highest risk for cats to get the disease.
“Due to the severity of disease, increased workload to test, care and treat the dogs in care, and the risk of spread of disease from the community, we have opted to close the entire building to incoming animals and people at this time,” according to the news release. “We will also be monitoring our cat population for any signs of CIV.”
How to keep your pet safe
The risk of disease spread is high in the community, and dog owners should not gather with unknown dogs at dog parks and dog events, according to the release. Most dogs do not have immunity to the disease, and older dogs, younger dogs and dogs with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the disease.
The vaccination for dog flu requires two doses two to three weeks apart, and it takes about five weeks to be fully vaccinated.
- Pet owners should follow their veterinarian’s recommended vaccine schedule. The only way to confirm a dog has canine influenza is to have a veterinarian test for the virus.
- If a pet is boarded, ensure the kennel is clean and has an isolation and care plan for dogs that develop kennel cough or another sickness.
- If your dog becomes sick, notify your veterinarian and keep your dog at home for three weeks after recovery.
The animal shelter is asking for community members to help reunite lost pets with owners and to keep strays they find since the shelter can’t take animals now.
“We need that support,” Federico said. “We need that help from the community because this is a critical event here. It’s something we never had to deal with before.”
This story was originally published October 5, 2023, 2:41 PM.